USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level.
Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
The NCAA is synonymous with college sports, but many recruits and families are surprised to know there is another regulatory body at the college level that creates opportunities for scholarships. The NAIA (National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics) is the oldest college athletics governing body. Comprised of mostly smaller schools, NAIA schools are almost always worth looking into.
Facts about the NAIA
The NAIA is a college sports governing body created in 1937 that administrates championships in 25 different sports at the college level.
There are over 250 schools and 60,000 athletes competing at the NAIA level in college. They comprise mostly smaller private colleges.
NAIA schools offer the following sports: Basketball, Baseball, Cross Country, Football, Soccer, Track & Field, Swimming & Diving, Softball, Wrestling, Volleyball (women’s only) and Competitive Cheer/Dance. Lacrosse and Men’s Volleyball are coming soon.
Do NAIA schools offer athletic scholarships?
Yes, each year over $500 million in athletic scholarships are awarded to student-athletes competing at NAIA institutions. All scholarships are equivalency scholarships, meaning a single scholarship can be divided up between multiple athletes. Each sport has a maximum number of scholarships they are allowed to provide. Similar to most athletic scholarships, NAIA scholarships are not guaranteed year to year and need to be renewed at the discretion of the coach/school.
Sport: Number of Scholarships per Team
Similar to NCAA schools, not every NAIA school or team is fully funded. The above numbers represent the maximum number of scholarships available to a team, but it is not a guarantee all schools have all of them to offer.
How competitive are NAIA schools?
NAIA schools are comparable to NCAA DIII schools, with the top programs being comparable to NCAA DII. There are two categories of NAIA schools: Those that are planning on staying NAIA and those who have hopes of becoming NCAA schools. If you are talking to an NAIA program, you want to know what the school’s long-term plan is.
The competition level for NAIA schools is on the rise. Like many smaller schools, the biggest difference in the level of competition isn’t how good the best athletes are, but how deep the talent pool is. The top-level NAIA programs and athletes are comparable to mid/high-level NCAA DII schools. Through technology like online profiles, video, etc., NAIA schools are recruiting a larger pool of athletes than they used to. This results in a deeper, more talented level of competition.
Should I consider an NAIA school?
Recruits should always begin their search for schools by finding all of the schools that fit their criteria. Most families start out by picking schools they see on TV and wasting valuable time trying to get noticed by programs they aren’t athletically qualified for. If you begin your search by considering things like athletic/academic fit, location, cost, etc., you will almost certainly have a few NAIA schools on your list.
One of the best parts about the NAIA recruiting process is that coaches are much more accessible than NCAA coaches. NAIA coaches aren’t restricted in when and how many emails they can send and they aren’t restricted in talking to prospects at recruiting events. That means if you have an NAIA school you are interested in (or better yet, they are interested in you), you can begin communicating with the coach right away.